Tullie Epkin McKee, born October 26, 1882 in the Poplar Springs area of Laurens County, S.C., spent his boyhood days on a farm and worked in cotton mills in Laurens County. About age 20, he left home and sought employment in Spartanburg County, SC where he met Maggie Drucille Freeman, who lived and helped on her father’s farm near Wellford, SC. Maggie Drucille Freeman was born March 9, 1883. Tullie McKee and Maggie Freeman were married July 5, 1903 at ages 21 and 20.
Tullie McKee, having studied electrical engineering, was employed by Southern Power Company [now Duke Power Company] in 1904 when their first hydro power plant was built on Catawba River in Mecklenberg County, NC. From there, Tullie was transferred to many other power plant as they were built on the Southern Power Company system. Three sons were born to them during this time, Paul Epkin McKee, May 24, 1904, Broadus Marion, May 28, 1906, Eston Eugene, June 19, 1908.
Tullie finally was transferred to the new hydro plant on Broad River in Cherokee County, SC—-Ninety-Nine Islands. At Ninety-Nine Islands, two more children were born, Maggie Myrtle July 26, 1910 and Woodrow Winston, the youngest, September 18, 1912. From there, he was transferred to Mt. Holly Steam Plant in February 1913. There he separated from Southern Power Company and became employed by Chattanooga Power Company and moved to Chattanooga, Tenn. in 1913 where the family lived until 1916.
Tullie in 1916 rejoined Southern Power Company and was stationed at the Eno Steam Plant near Durham, NC. In 1918, he was transferred to the Greenville Steam Plant at Greenville, SC. In 1920 back to Mt. Holly Steam Plant near Charlotte, NC, then to Spartanburg, SC in 1921, to Kannapolis, NC in 1922, and to Greensboro Stream Plant in 1923 where he was placed in the operator/dispatcher department. While at Greensboro, the power company’s name was changed from Southern Power Company to Duke Power Company at the death of the founder, James B. Duke. Also at Greensboro, the oldest son, Paul, went to Durham and was employed at Eno Steam Plant—The first child to leave home.
Tullie applied for work with Blue Ridge Power Company and in October 1925, left Duke Power Company again and came to Polk County as superintendent of the newly constructed Turner Shoals Hydro Plant which started generating electricity in 1925. The family stayed on at Greensboro to crate and load the household items into a railway boxcar and then stayed with relatives at Wellford, SC while the household items were in transit to Tryon, and then moved by truck to Turner Shoals.
On November 1, 1925, his wife and four children joined Tullie McKee in Pole County. The family was thrilled by the country, though it was a rainy, dreary, chilly day. Eston, Maggie and Woodrow entered school at the Mill Spring School on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 1925 and Broadus became employed with the construction cleanup crew at the power plant and later in the plant itself on a permanent basis. Broadus, the first of the children to get married, wed Leona Lynchin November 1926. In 1927, Duke Power Company purchased the Blue Ridge Power Company system putting Tullie McKee back in their employ. In June 1929 the oldest son, Paul, married Hazel Cole at Durham, NC. Woodrow, Maggie and Eston continued in school.
Eston, after graduating from high school at Stearns High School in Columbus 1927 [at this time Mill Spring only had 10 grades], became employed as operator at the plant and married Nellie Walker. The 10th grade was dropped at Mill Spring School leaving only nine grades and Maggie and Woodrow transferred to Stearns High School. Maggie graduated from the 11th grade in 1929 and then went on to Asheville Normal College at Asheville, NC where she attended four years and graduated. Woodrow graduated from Stearns High School in 1931 and then attended NC State College at Raleigh, NC and then Weaver College at Weaverville, NC finishing Weaver College in 1933.
Woodrow became employed at the Turner Shoals Hydro Plant on August 28, 1933 and Maggie started teaching at Sunny View School. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Tullie McKee invested in the Columbus Cotton Gin, Columbus Mill, Columbus Mercantile Company, the Polk County Bank and Trust Company, Farmer’s Mercantile Company. He was vice president of the Polk County Bank at the time it closed and he lost in all these investments. He was also a charted investor in the C.I.T. Loan Company, but sold out his interest there for fear of losing again.
In 1934 Tullie purchased the Lynn Waldrop Farm near Mill Spring. This failed him too, and he sold the farm to N.G. Walker. On June 3, 1934 Woodrow married Gertie Mae Gilbert, a native Polk Mountain from the Sunny View Section, and in 1935 Maggie married Y. F. Walker of Mill Spring who also was employed at the hydro plant. Tullie was a Mason and a Shriner. The McKee family in Polk County all attended the Mill Spring Baptist Church. Here Tullie was on the deacon board along with Frank Jackson, John H. Gibbs, C.V. Elliott, Lee O. Thompson, Hubert Pack and Hugh Arledge.
Tullie’s health started failing in the 1940s first with an appendectomy in 1942 and then hypertension and he was relieved of part of his responsibilities as superintendent of Turner Shoals Hydro Plant in 1946. He retired from Duke Power Company on December 31, 1952. After he retired, he continued in his activities as church deacon and stirred about with his poultry and garden until his death on September 5, 1957 at age 74. Mrs. McKee lived in the home and Woodrow and family moved in to help her. She died October 5, 1965 at age 82. She was interred beside her husband, Tullie, at Polk Memorial Gardens.
Written by Woodrow McKee
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